John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 67|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
When Matthew Arnold quoted the ninth letter he detached it wholly from its vital atmosphere. He cited and judged it like one of his specimen passages of the "grand style." Love letters, so detached, may easily be made the subject of jest or censure. Now this ninth letter, it chances, came with the Roberts collection into the possession of Haverford College. And as we hold that human document in hand, look upon the page, revive in imagination the figure of Keats, the circumstances of the moment and the darkness that was closing around him, we cannot, with any decency, think of it as on the level of cheap scandal. The sheet is stainless, without blot or scratch. The handwriting is clear, regular, measured; it has the neatness of the copybook. Keats, when he wrote, was at his lodgings in College Street. He had just returned to London and his "hertè mine" after a long absence at Shanklin and Winchester, where, with steaming exhausting speed, he had written the tragedy of "Otho the Great." That work was done; he was home again for relaxation and love. Note this. He was yielding to love in life just as he yielded to love in poetry. It was "an ardent listlessness," a luxury of enjoyment in repose. He was in one of those intense moods which we all applaud in his verse:—
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Now more than ever seems it rich to die;
To cease upon the midnight with no pain.
Visualize this situation.
"You have absorbed me," he writes. "I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving. I should be miserable without the hope of soon seeing you." Just at this instant the door opens—a letter is handed to him—he opens and reads—it is from Miss Brawne. She is aware that love is a torment to him and suggests that he would be happier if they did not often see each other. Immediately from his tingling emotion comes the absolute protest. "Your note came in here, he continues. "I cannot be happier away from you. 'T is richer than an Argosy of Pearls. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that men have died martyrs for religion. . . . I could be martyred for my religion. Love is my religion—I could die for that. I could die for you."
"All for Love: or the World Well Lost"! Is not the title of Dryden's play the best comment on this letter? Keats, for the time, is totally absorbed in one emotion. His unusual susceptibility makes it as keen as that sensation, later, of feeling the flowers grow over his grave. How many women—we appeal to the women—would regard that absorption in love as indicative of lack of character? Yet the censor declares it is a sign of enervation. Enervation means impotence; incapacity for doing one's work. But contemporaneously with this "enervating" love affair, Keats writes much of his best poetry. Has the sea-gull, after long beating against the winds, no right to rest on the enjoyment of its wings? And if it does, is that a sign of enervation?
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